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RoboCop 3 (Blu-ray)

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RoboCop 3

RoboCop 3Starring Robert Burke, Nancy Allen, Jill Hennessy, Rip Torn

Directed by Fred Dekker

Distributed by Scream Factory


People die in Hollywood all the time – figuratively and otherwise – but it was on November 5, 1993 that a particularly painful death occurred: that of writer/director Fred Dekker’s career. That fateful day saw the release of Dekker’s RoboCop 3 (1993), a movie that managed not only to kill a franchise but any future prospects for nearly the remainder of Dekker’s budding career. In fact, aside from some work on “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2002) the only thing he’s done since is scripting duties on the upcoming The Predator (2018) for his former roommate Shane Black. After delivering two of horror’s hottest cult titles ever, with Night of the Creeps (1986) and The Monster Squad (1987), Dekker should have been cranking out genre pictures and ascending to his place as one of horror’s elite. Why he never didn’t go back to low-budget horror filmmaking after the abysmal failure of RoboCop 3, I’ll never know but, man, of all the “what ifs?” in this industry it pains me to wonder what he might’ve done.

But, then again, he did do RoboCop 3 and he has been quoted as saying that any and all fault people find with the film belongs in his lap, since the studio and everyone else up and down the production line gave him the go-ahead to see it through his way. Although, it is also known the studio wanted a “softer” RoboCop since his primary audience was kids (likely due to 1988’s “RoboCop: The Animated Series) and they felt a PG-13 rating would allow a younger crowd the chance to see him in action. I’m sure the possibility of a greater payday by opening up the potential audience was a consideration, too. Regardless, Dekker’s film is a toothless tale of altruism, with RoboCop spending most of the film helping the homeless, while the over-the-top violence and spitting satire take a far back seat… like, in the trunk.

Detroit is beginning to look more and more like a post-apocalyptic wasteland – in the movie, although that sentence is scarily applicable to 2017 Detroit, too. OCP is struggling to realize its Delta City vision due to the failure of the RoboCop program and subsequent brush with bankruptcy. The company decides to employ Urban Rehabilitators, “Rehabs”, to help speed up the gentrification of the city, forcing residents out of their homes and onto the streets, although OCP claims the Rehabs are there to supplement the waning police force. In order to facilitate their growth, OCP sells out to the Japanese Kanemitsu Corporation, a company who employs a robot enforcer of their own, called “Otomo” (Bruce Locke).

One night, during a stop to check on squatters staying in a rundown church RoboCop (Robert Burke) and Lewis (Nancy Allen) are confronted by the Rehabs who open fire, killing Lewis and damaging RoboCop. The resistance fighters take in RoboCop and give him a place to rest up until Dr. Lazarus (Jill Hennessey), one of RoboCop’s creators, is able to come and perform necessary repairs – including the deletion of Directive 4 which prevents RoboCop from acting against the Rehabs or any employee of OCP. Didn’t he erase those directives in the last movie? Anyway, RoboCop gets spruced up, dons a fancy new set of wings, and flies his metal ass out of the sewers and onto the streets, where a fierce battle between the resistance/police and OCP is underway.

There is so much this film gets wrong that to list every infraction would basically be a rundown of the entire plot, line by line. But here’s where it lost me entirely: the loss of Peter Weller. Sure, Burke kinda looks like Weller if you drink a six-pack and squint your eyes but in terms of speech and mannerisms you just don’t feel like you’re watching the same character. They almost would have been better of either suggesting this is another RoboCop (which probably would’ve been dumb) or keep the helmet on the entire time and have Weller do some ADR work. His commitment to Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) is the reason given for his absence, and it sounds legit, but his voice really made a world of difference.

Even disregarding the lack of Weller Power, the film is a tragic bore. I don’t want to see RoboCop caught up in a gentrification battle and aiding those less fortunate any more than I wanted to see Rambo fortify an Afghani village and its residents in Rambo III (1988). Yes, I am aware RoboCop’s main directive is to protect the innocent and uphold the public trust, but I want to see him doing it while blasting mf’ers away left and right. Here, he’s a neutered dog with a cone around his neck, laid up for half the running time.

If there is any consolation here, it is found in Basil Poledouris’ return to the composer’s chair. The main themes, a salient absence in RoboCop 2 (1990), make their triumphant return and are virtually the only thing that prevents this movie from looking like a big-budget fan film. If you aren’t much of a film score geek then chances are this won’t matter much but for those of us who feel a stellar score can greatly improve even a poor film this is a much-welcomed return.

A number of returning faces appear here, too, as they did in the previous entry. That sniveling worm Johnson (Felton Perry) is here once more, although The Old Man is no longer OCP CEO; that honor is now bestowed upon Rip Torn, whose character has no name and is credited as “The CEO”. There are a lot of new faces, many of whom went on to greater success (more so than this??), including Stephen Root, Daniel von Bargen, C.C.H. Pounder, Mako, and Bradley Whitford. Even still, these commendable character actors can only do so much to sell this half-baked live-action Saturday morning cartoon. RoboCop deserved a better send-off than this. At the very least – and this is damning with the faintest of praise – it’s better than the uninspired RoboCop (2014) remake.

Unlike RoboCop 2, this film did not receive a new scan and so the 1.85:1 1080p image is the same one found on MGM’s previous Blu-ray. This isn’t such a bad thing, as the last release featured a strong image with great clarity, organic film grain, consistent color saturation, and few instances of dirt & debris. And, you know, given that the film isn’t exactly a celebrated cult classic there wasn’t much reason for Scream Factory to waste money on a new transfer when the existing master was already in great shape.

As with the previous film, RoboCop 3 has an English DTS-HD MA track available in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound. Dialogue levels are nicely balanced and always clear, gunfire has a good sense of direction but weak impact, activity bursts from different corners of the room when required… but the real standout here is the return of Poledouris, who brings back all of RoboCop’s stirring themes and classic cues. It’s just a shame he didn’t provide them for a better film. Someone needs to do a fan edit of RoboCop 2 with this film’s score. Subtitles are available in English.

There are two audio commentary tracks to be found here – first, with co-writer/director Fred Dekker; second, with the “RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop” team.

“Delta City Shuffle: The Making of RoboCop 3” – Expect to find some revealing interviews with Fred Dekker, Nancy Allen, Bruce Locke, etc. here. While some express disappointment in how the film has been received this isn’t the dump fest I was expecting.

“Robo-Vision: The Effects of RoboCop 3” – Again, Phil Tippett and the major special effects players on the picture sit down to discuss what they achieved on-screen for this sequel.

“The Corporate Ladder – Interview with Actor Felton Perry” – Johnson is up to his old ways, once again.

“Training Otomo – Interview with Actor Bruce Locke and Martial Arts Trainer Bill Ryusaki”.

“War Machine – Interview with RoboCop Gun Fabricator James Belohovek”, discusses the weapons seen in the film.

A theatrical trailer and a still gallery are also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with director Fred Dekker
  • NEW Audio Commentary with the makers of “RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop” documentary – Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths and Eastwood Allen
  • NEW Delta City Shuffle: The Making of ROBOCOP 3 featuring director Fred Dekker, actors Nancy Allen, Bruce Locke, producer Patrick Crowley, cinematographer Gary Kibbe and production designer Hilda Stark (38 minutes)
  • NEW Robo-Vision: The FX of ROBOCOP 3 featuring Peter Kuran, Phil Tippett, Craig Hayes, Kevin Kutchaver and Paul Gentry (12 minutes)
  • NEW The Corporate Ladder – an interview with actor Felton Perry (11 minutes)
  • NEW Training Otomo – an interview with actor Bruce Locke and martial arts trainer Bill Ryusaki (8 minutes)
  • NEW War Machine – an interview with RoboCop gun fabricator James Belohovek (9 minutes)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

BUY IT NOW!

  • RoboCop 3
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.22 (9 votes)

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

Directed by Mick Jackson

Distributed by Severin Films


Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

“Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

“Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

“Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

“Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
  • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
  • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
  • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
  • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
  • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
  • U.S. Trailer
  • Threads
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

Written and directed by Alex Garland


Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

  • Annihilation
5.0

Summary

Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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